Harris County expands program to reduce domestic gun violence

Harris County Commissioners voted to expand a pilot program designed to reduce domestic gun violence.

Harris County Commissioners voted to expand a pilot program designed to reduce domestic gun violence.

Harris County commissioners voted at an Oct. 29 meeting on a motion to move forward with plans to expand a pilot program intended to reduce domestic violence incidents involving firearms.

The program—known as "Safe Surrender"—calls on individuals charged with a domestic violence incidents or who have had a protective order filed against them to temporarily surrender their firearms to the Harris County Sheriff's office or to a licensed dealer until the case is resolved. The program, which was being run by Harris County's 280th District Court, is slated to be expanded to all of the county's 22 felony district courts.

Addressing the court, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Texas law has encouraged people under a protective order to temporarily surrender their guns for the past 25 years. However, he said Harris County formerly did not have any program or infrastructure in place to oversee those efforts.

Gonzalez said he supported the program's expansion, noting that around 40% of homicides in Harris County have a domestic violence nexus.

"Many people killed by intimate partners are killed within 90 days of violence, so it is very important we act quickly," he said.

A total of 25 weapons were voluntarily surrendered over the course of the pilot program, which was launched earlier this year, Gonzalez said. As a pilot, the program was funded entirely from the existing sheriff's office budget, he said. The court directed the sheriff's office to work with Institute of Forensic Science and the Criminal District Courts on an expansion plan and to come back with an estimated cost at the Nov. 12 meeting.

"We think it's sound public policy, being respectful of Second Amendment rights but also recognizing the volatility of many situations," Gonzalez said. "It’s a win-win for everybody. If we can prevent one domestic violence death, that’s a success."

Other initiatives


Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo provided updates on several other initiatives the county is looking into to reduce gun violence, including a program being run by the Precinct 1 Constable's office to distribute gun locks at community service events and an effort to speed up the process by which the District Clerk provides reports to the Texas Department of Public Safety on convictions that disqualify individuals from purchasing firearms.

"One way to keep firearms out of the wrong hands is to make sure that licensed dealers know who they are selling to," Hidalgo said. "Licensed firearms dealers have no way of knowing if they have been convicted of crimes if the database hasn’t been updated."

As a part of a multi-pronged effort to reduce gun violence in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Executive Order GA-07 in September. As part of that order, starting Jan. 1, all grants awarded to Texas counties will hinge in part of the county meeting certain requirements for how fast convictions are reported to DPS.

A total of 90% of convictions must be reported within seven business days, an increase from the current requirement that convictions be reported within 30 business days, Harris County District Clerk Marylin Burgess said. By Jan. 1, 2021, the requirements rise again to within five business days, she said.

Harris County has typically followed a self-imposed turnaround of 10 business days, Burgess said. However, as of Oct. 25, she said the county has reached a point where it is capable of turning convictions around in five days.

Roughly 80,000 adult convictions and 60,000 juvenile cases are analyzed per year, Burgess said. She said the added pressure on her staff to meet the new deadline will likely necessitate more help, including one person who would be dedicated to juvenile cases, which she said tend to be more complicated. She said she would come back to commissioners at a later date with a formal request, which she said would likely be made before the start of the next budget cycle in March.

Hidalgo said other types of gun control efforts—including stronger background checks and "red flag" laws, which allow police to temporarily confiscate firearms from individuals determined to be a danger to themselves or others—would have to be passed at a higher level, whether as a state law or federal law.

Several public speakers addressed the court, but none expressed opposition to the expansion of the Safe Surrender program, which was the only gun violence initiative commissioners voted on at the meeting. Several speakers spoke against the idea of expanding background checks and against gun control laws more broadly.

In a statement, Hidalgo lauded the county's efforts and criticized state and federal lawmakers for failing to pass gun control measures.

"Here in Harris County, we won't sit idly by and do nothing as this epidemic continues to steal lives all around us," she said. "We know county government can be an agent for positive change, working around barriers and unfunded mandates to keep our communities safe. The measures we are announcing today are real, common-sense actions that will save lives and protect some of our most vulnerable residents, including victims of domestic violence and children."
By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.


MOST RECENT

A voter shows up to vote at the Moody Park Community Center on election day in Harris County. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
HARRIS COUNTY ELECTION UPDATES: All voting centers fully closed, no lines remain as of 9 p.m.

Along with 150,000 ballots cast throughout the two-week early voting process, total voter turnout broke records for primary runoffs in the county.

Republican candidates Joe Danna and Paul Day faced each other in a primary runoff for Harris County sheriff July 14. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
ELECTION RESULTS: Joe Danna holds early voting lead in Republican primary for Harris County sheriff

Two candidates faced each other in the July 14 primary run off for the Republican spot on the November ballot for Harris County sheriff.

New research shows the coronavirus can survive for much longer in the air than previously determined. (Graphic by Justin Howell/Community Impact Newspaper)
UTMB experts say COVID-19 airborne transmission is responsible for rapid spread; virus lasts more than 12 hours in air

Two infectious disease experts from the Bay Area gave an update on the coronavirus and current research efforts July 14.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, giving claimants $600 per week, will end July 25. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Federal unemployment payments of $600 per week end July 25

While the added $600 federal unemployment benefits will end, Texans are still eligible for other forms of relief.

Dr. Steven Kelder is a professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environmental Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health in Austin with a career spanning more than 25 years. (Graphic by Chance Flowers/Community Impact Newspaper)
Disease expert discusses ongoing pandemic and nearing school year

Dr. Steven H. Kelder recently answered several questions for Community Impact Newspaper regarding COVID-19; trends in cases statewide; and important considerations for parents, students and educators as the 2020-21 school year approaches.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said July 13 that he would like to see a two-week stay-home order in Houston. (Courtesy HTV)
Houston coronavirus updates: Mayor Turner seeking two-week shutdown; 1 in 4 tests coming back positive

Mayor Turner made a series of announcements July 13 related to COVID-19 precautions.

Public health officials in Houston and Harris County reported that 2,001 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed July 13, a new single-day record for the county. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: 2,001 cases, 8 deaths confirmed July 13

Public health officials in Houston and Harris County reported that 2,001 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed July 13, a new single-day record for the county.

A Cy-Fair ISD employee distributes meals via curbside pickup for district students during the summer. (Courtesy Cy-Fair ISD)
'Community Impact Newspaper' seeks feedback and more Houston-area business, community news

Read the latest Houston-area business and community news here.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, shown here in March, announced July 13 the U.S. Department of Defense would provide additional resource to help Texas combat COVID-19. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)
Department of Defense task forces deployed to help Texas combat COVID-19

Gov. Greg Abbott announced July 13 the U.S. Department of Defense would provide more resources to Texas to combat the rise of COVID-19.

The Houston Federation of Teachers wants the 2020-21 school year to begin with virtual learning and continue as such until case numbers decline. (Courtesy Rubén Rodriguez/Unsplash)
Teachers union: Houston ISD should offer virtual learning until case numbers flatten

The recommendations come two days ahead of Houston ISD's official plans.

A Cy-Fair ISD employee distributes meals via curbside pickup for district students during the summer. (Courtesy Cy-Fair ISD)
'Community Impact' now seeking feedback from parents, teachers regarding 2020-21 school year

Help us adequately cover local education by submitting feedback here: